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Experimental Ebola vaccine used on human

IT was a nightmare scenario worthy of a sci-fi movie script: A scientist accidentally pricked her finger with a needle used to inject the deadly Ebola virus into lab mice.

Within hours of the accident, several members of a far-flung community of virologists, biologists and others tensely discussed how to save her life in a trans-Atlantic telephone conference.

Within 24 hours of the March 12 accident, an experimental vaccine - never tried on humans - was sent to Germany from a lab in Canada.

Within 40 hours, the scientist, a 45-year-old woman whose identity has not been revealed, was injected with the vaccine.

Dr Stefan Guenther, head of the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, where the researcher was working, said the scientist is healthy and free of the virus.

If she can stay that way until April 2, she can consider herself safe.

Ebola hemorrhagic fever, mostly seen only in Africa, is one of the world's most feared diseases. It begins with flu-like symptoms, followed by bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Days later, some victims begin bleeding through the nose, mouth and eyes. Depending on the strain of virus, it can kill up to 90 percent of victims. It has no cure.

On the night of the accident Guenther contacted several Ebola research specialist, including Dr Heinz Feldmann, chief of the virology lab at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in the United States.

During the teleconference, they debated the options: a live vaccine developed by Feldmann and colleagues, but untried on humans; a treatment designed to interfere with the virus's ability to multiply; and the use of an anti-coagulant that US Army research found had saved the lives of monkeys exposed to Ebola.

They went for Feldmann's vaccine. In a 2008 study, they showed four of eight monkeys survived when given the vaccine 20 minutes after a lethal dose of Ebola virus.

The only problem is it's not certain the researcher was infected with the virus. The needle stuck her but the plunger was not pushed so the virus may not have entered her bloodstream.


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